In Return of the King, Book VI, chapter 1 "The Tower of Cirith Ungol," in the discussion between the orcs Snaga and Shagrat, the former states (unknowingly referring to Sam):

Gorbag was right, I tell you. There's a great fighter about, one of those bloody-handed Elves, or one of the filthy tarks. He's coming here, I tell you. You heard the bell. He's got past the Watchers, and that's tark's work.

Of whom does Snaga speak, when he mentions tarks? And what power does a tark have to get past the Watchers?

The Watchers are described earlier in the chapter, and I assume Snaga means "got past" yet sound the alarm, since clearly the orcs get past the Watchers also. Snaga is obviously fearful that a person of great power is inside the fortress.

1 Answer 1


Tark is a word in the Orcish-Westron pidgin; it refers to a Gondorian human:

In this jargon tark, 'man of Gondor', was a debased form of tarkil, a Quenya word used in Westron for one of Númenorean descent.

Return of the King Appendix F I "The Languages and Peoples of the Third Age" Of Other Races

Snaga assumes, not entirely incorrectly, that only an Elf or a Númenórean would have the power to bypass the Watchers.

Although there's no evidence that they actually have any especial power to do so1, there's ample reason for Snaga to believe them capable:

  • Númenor/Gondor has historically been closely allied with the Elves, the most magically-advanced race in Middle-earth

  • The Gondorians are descended from the only armies to ever defeat Sauron: the Númenórean armies of Tar-Minastir, who routed Sauron's forces during his first expansion across Middle-earth; the Gondorian armies of Elendil, from the Last Alliance; and the Gondorian armies of Eärnur, who (admittedly with Elvish assistance) drove the Witch-King out of the North.

    We know that modern Orcs have knowledge of the Siege of Barad-dûr, so it's not a stretch to imagine that the descendants of Númenor have built up a reputation in the minds of the armies of Mordor

  • It's possible that the Watchers were built (at least partially) by Gondorians at the same time as the Tower itself2; if so (or if the Orcs believe that to be so), then it's not unreasonable for Snaga to assume that a Gondorian would know of some weakness in their construction

1 We don't actually know a whole lot about the Watchers at all, so it's not entirely clear by what mechanism (other than Galadriel's Phial, of course) they even could be bypassed

2 Personally, I don't find this likely. But then, it's about what Snaga believes, not what I believe

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    @ScottS It doesn't matter how they get past or whether they could get past, just that the Orcs believe they could. Gondorians could do many powerful things, so it's likely Orcs would believe it. Dec 14, 2016 at 18:36
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    Just my two cents worth, but I would point out that Aragorn (by far the most powerful Númenórean of the Third Age) was able to wrest control of a palantír from Sauron himself. With this in mind, one could see why the Orcs would assume, if it was a Man, it would have to be a Númenórean. Dec 14, 2016 at 20:33
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    So Snaga's comment was rather along the lines of some American soldiers in an alien invasion film looking at a flying saucer and saying "Holy crap! Must be the Russians!"
    – Werrf
    Dec 15, 2016 at 15:18
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    @JasonBaker, I get that the palantír was a special case, I just feel that it's a canonical example of why a Númenórean (Tark) could get past the watchers. Since Snaga was at the Siege of Barad-dûr at the end of the second age, he would have some idea of their old powers. Dec 16, 2016 at 1:38
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    Also worth noting that "magic" and "force of will" are largely the same thing in LoTR.
    – OrangeDog
    Oct 28, 2021 at 16:14

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